A primary concern of this conference is the issue of power, which, in the Asian context has to do with far more than political authority alone. The way in which power is harnessed to the maintenance of social and moral order in different Asian environments may reveal much about how security is conceived of and practiced according to cultural schemes. These schemes may make the transposition of ideas about national boundaries, human rights agendas, peace-building initiatives, development programmes that arise from other cultural settings problematic. Understanding how power is constituted through socio-cultural process requires also paying attention to issues such as gender, trust and social networks. Indigenous conceptualizations of power and order may shape “security” in particular, dynamic ways and they should, we propose, be brought to bear on the security debate.
Theoretical background and implications
The concepts of security that have until now enjoyed political and academic currency have come mainly from the field of security studies. Throughout the Cold War the focus of security studies was upon political and military measures with which to address international threats to state security. With the end of the Cold War, however, new perspectives began to emerge. The state-centrism that had characterized earlier theory now began to be called into question by more society-centric analyses focusing on the reduction of suffering, violent conflict and structural violence, and the enhancement of the welfare of the individual and the family. While the role of the state remains important, perhaps increasingly so within Asian mainstream security studies, post-Cold War theoretical developments have meant that the centrality of the state in security theorizing can no longer be assumed. Security is now also being approached from alternative angles. Economics, environmental degradation and health risks as well as the relationship between individual security and the community have become legitimate concerns in the security debate.
This conference attempts to bridge gaps between various approaches to security by examining how they are interrelated, and how they may inform one another. It asks questions about the ways in which discourses and practices of national/international perspectives, as well as their propagators, relate socially and culturally to local security efforts and experiences. The conference is academic in nature and scope but recognizes the need to communicate academic findings to politicians and practitioners. The conference will chart new ground and it is therefore hoped that it will help in the development of more culturally sensitive strategies for dealing with security and insecurity locally as well as globally.